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  • I’m on a bridge in the fake Piazza San Marco in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, watching gondoliers pilot high-paying tourists through the fake Grand Canal, gliding across impossibly blue and highly chlorinated waters, going under faux marble archways, and passing boutiques like Banana Republic and Coach, the gondoliers all the time crooning, “Volare, whoa-oh-oh-oh.”

    It’s dinnertime, so the Piazza is bustling with accordion players and mimes, and immigrants selling gelato, and a Chinese man is making portraits out of Super Sculpty Clay, which he moves into shape with his fingers, wearing little latex sleeves on each of his thumbs to guard against the onset of blisters. People eat meals in “outdoor” cafes, below a ceiling painted with clouds, lit by hidden LEDs that make it look kind of like dusk, as long as you don’t look directly. When you glance around the room, you see many points of glowing light, and these are the screens of the phones of the tourists, taking pictures of the Piazza, so they’ll never forget this very special night.

    I look around and I think what thinking people always think when they visit Las Vegas, which is how much fakeness there is, how everything is just a facade, how the fun is engineered and the air is filled with perfume piped in through vents and ducts, and how “Think of me” from Phantom of the Opera is constantly played on repeat, so you have no sense of time and you’re lulled into a blissful kind of opium daze where all you can think of is buying. I look around and I think, “So this is what humanity’s come to? This is the pinnacle of progress and the great American dream — consumers consuming facades?”

    I feel so out of it and distant, until I see myself buying a cone of gelato, and I see myself watching a mime, and I see myself taking a picture of the Chinese man with the little latex thumb sleeves, and I realize that I am a part of it too, and that I only find it alienating because I’m here alone tonight and I’m feeling a little bit lonely, and that all of these tourists are here with the people they love, and that if I were here with someone I loved then it wouldn’t really matter what was happening around us because there would be what was happening between us — and in us and to us and through us — and those are things that lie beyond the reach of perfumed air and gondolas and thumb sleeves and LED sunsets and merchants and mimes and every other kind of facade, and I realize this, and then I look around the room again and now it looks different to me.
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